False-uniqueness Effect: You're not unique and you know it.

We've all had our parents tell us that each of us are special even when we are not. The bias in our perception that we are unique when in reality we are not is called the False-uniqueness effect. In essence people see themselves as unique from others – as having better personalities and abilities, more desirable opinions, and brighter futures than almost everyone else.

This bias/effect is the opposite of another common phenomenon called the false consensus effect, where you overestimate the extent to which your attitude and behaviour are normal and typical compared to those of others.


One FREE mental model or thinking hack everyday right to your inbox.


These 2 effects are linked to self-esteem and with the false-uniqueness effect, research suggests that there is a difference in the way different genders express it. Men tend to view their physical and social traits favourably, whereas women tend to view their social traits better than they actually are.

Let's say you are on the street and you see a blind man who needs help crossing the road and you go ahead and help him. You probably think that you are one of the very few who would actually help the blind man, but in reality a significant number of people might be inclined to help the man cross the street. Since helping a blind man is considered a positive, you are likely to look your actions as unique. (Source)

The opposite is true as well, let's say there is a fight happening on the road side and you choose to not get involved in it. And since the idea of not taking action is considered a negative trait, you are more likely to rationalise the action by telling yourself that most people will not get involved in a fight between 2 strangers. The reality however could be much different, you might be in the minority that didn't intervene and stop violence.

There are a lot of pitfalls to not realising and remedying false uniqueness effect. For example, if you assume that most of your colleagues are not going out of their way to get a promotion and only you are working harder than everyone else, you are in for a surprise. In any competitive environment, false uniqueness effect can be detrimental to your success.

In the opening bank robbery sequence of the movie "The Dark Knight" every member except one assumes that they will be a bit more richer by killing a member of the robbery gang. None of them saw it coming in the beginning and only one of them learned about it after explicitly getting to know from another member. And the Joker clearly takes advantage of their naivety thereby getting all but one of them killed.

If we look at social implications, then the rabbit hole gets even deeper. Let's say that you believe that a particular social policy has a lot of flaws but you assume that you are alone in holding this belief, then chances are you are not going to voice your opinion for the fear of backlash. However, this belief or opinion could be held by a significant portion of the population and by so many people silencing themselves, the policy might not get remedied in time.

The false-uniqueness effect can be managed with a little bit of conscious effort:

  1. Do not assume lack of initiative in others.

  2. Do not become complacent based on vanity metrics.

  3. Project based on the past rather than taking things for granted.

  4. Acknowledge that people are working for themselves.

So that was today's post, I hope this helps you manage this effect. Also, if you or someone you know would like to advertise on this newsletter reply to this email with a "yes" and I'll share more details.

Keep it rational.